Synergistic Research Tesla Tricon USB
No aspect of the audio
world is more dominated by mumbo jumbo than cables. Pretty much anyone with a soldering
iron can get into the cable business, usually by simply terminating wire produced by
someone else. Worse, some dress up wire from Home Depot, add some marketing wizardry, and
charge a premium for their "engineered" product. Such companies arent
nearly as rare as they should be, but even those that manage to survive dont tend to
last very long -- hype is no substitute for engineering.
Synergistic Research is a company that looks for -- and
regularly seems to find -- innovative new ways of transmitting an electrical signal from A
to B. Rumors persist that one of the secrets of Synergistics success is a team of
aerospace engineers who moonlight as cable designers when not occupied with their
ultrasecret day jobs. Officially, Synergistic attributes the companys product
development to president Ted Denney III. No offense to Denney, but I think the story of
the mysterious space engineers sounds way cooler.
Whoever designed the things, its obvious to me that
Synergistic is on to something very special with its Tesla line of audio cables. I first
heard of these from fellow reviewer Howard Kneller, who was so impressed with his Tesla
Precision Reference interconnects and speaker cables that, over a period of three days, he
called me about every 15 minutes to share each new sonic gem the Teslas revealed.
Howards not an excitable guy, but man oh man was he excited by these cables! It took
some time to get around to it, but thanks to the Tesla Tricon USB cable ($550 USD per 1m
cable), I, too, have at last taken a trip on the Tesla train, and what I discovered is
nothing less than shocking.
What sets the Tesla cables apart from Synergistics
earlier products, and indeed from every other audio cable ever made, is something called
quantum tunneling (QT). As understood by this arts major, QT is a physical phenomenon that
deals with the probability of an electron passing straight through an otherwise
impenetrable barrier. If I may borrow from Wikipedia, whereas heavy objects (e.g.,
a baseball) cannot pass through solid barriers (e.g., a wall), electrons, being
very small, can, under certain conditions, make their way through a solid. What
relevance this has for audio cable is anyones guess.
Exactly how Synergistic subjects its Tesla cables to
quantum tunneling is shrouded in mystery, but a video on the companys website shows
the essence of the procedure. Basically, every cable in the Tesla line is hooked up to a
large Tesla coil and zapped with 2 million volts. It doesnt take an electrical
engineer to understand that these volts must be accompanied by incredibly low amperage,
otherwise the cables would glow white-hot just before they vaporized. It is this rush of
(literal) megavoltage that turns ordinary cables into members of the Tesla line. Whether a
QT state can be achieved using a Tesla coil is a question Ill leave that up to
physicists; and because I didnt have a Tricon USB cable that hadnt been
zapped, I cant say what effect the QT process had on the cables performance.
What I can say is that, whatever the cause, the Tesla Tricon USB is a phenomenal
The Tesla Tricon isnt the first high-performance USB
cable Ive tried. When I switched from a standard USB cable to Kimber Kables
USB interconnect (then $49), there was an obvious lowering of the noise floor that let
through a lot more detail. In fact, it was thanks to the Kimber USB cable that I switched
from a CD player to a computer music server: with the Kimber relaying USB data, the sound
quality exceeded that of the best CD player I had.
Given the significant improvement I got with Kimbers
cable, I was surprised to find that few other cable makers have put forward USB cables of
their own. While an ever greater number of makers of audio components offer USB inputs on
their CD players, preamps, and integrated amps, not to mention the plethora of
USB-to-S/PDIF converters now available, very few audio-grade USB cables are on offer.
At $550 for a 1m length, the Tesla Tricon USB costs about
11 times as much as the Kimber. Thats quite a premium by any standard, and its
one big reason I wanted to try the Synergistic. Could it be that the Tesla Tricon USB was
superior enough to the Kimber to actually justify the difference in price?
Any USB cable doesnt only transmit data; its
also a power cable, with two wires for the datastream, and two more for the 5V available
from the computer to power a connected USB device. In a standard USB cable these four
wires are housed in very close proximity to each other. But just by looking at the Tesla
Tricon, you can see that its a different kind of USB cable. Two distinct cables are
wound around each other and sheathed in a mesh jacket. Each individual cable houses a pair
of conductors, as opposed to the normal USB format of a single cable containing four
wires. Synergistic Research asserts that this separation of the power and datastreams
precludes the possibility of the 5V power stream contaminating the data. Theres
likely something to this; a computers USB power supply is notoriously full of
electrical noise, and it stands to reason that keeping that noise away from the datastream
is a good idea.
From the start of my time with the Tesla Tricon, it was as
obvious as being hit on the head with a hammer that Synergistics USB cable was miles
ahead of Kimbers. True to what Howard Kneller had told me about other Tesla cables,
with the Tricon USB I felt as if I were seeing into the music for the first time.
Where the Kimber had considerably dropped the noise level, the Tesla Tricon USB seemed to
be pulling my music straight from the silent vacuum of space. This allowed all manner of
previously undiscovered spatial and musical cues to become as starkly obvious as the moon
passing in front of the sun.
Every audio reviewer uses certain familiar recordings to
test various aspects of performance. My favorite track for assessing resolution is
"So What," from Miles Daviss classic Kind of Blue (CD,
Columbia/Legacy 64935). At the beginning of the track, Bill Evans piano and Ray
Browns bass lay out a mellow, understated intro. Just before Jimmy Cobbs ride
cymbal joins in, Brown runs through a quick riff that usually sounds congested and muddy
on most audio equipment Ive listened to. Part of the problem is that, just as
theyre plucked, Browns last few notes encounter a wave of sound energy already
leaving his bass. Until the Tesla Tricon USB entered my system, I had never heard those
notes as distinct, individual tones. The first time I listened to "So What" with
the Tricon USB, I was astonished -- not just surprised or pleased, but flat-out amazed
that I was hearing something new from a recording Ive listened to more times than I
could ever remember.
The Tesla Tricon USBs high-resolution capability
translated into a very transparent and neutral soundscape. Just now Im listening to
the Dave Brubeck Quartet play "Three to Get Ready," from At Carnegie Hall
(CD, Columbia/Legacy 61455). The power, presence, and clarity of the sax, the kick drum,
and the brushes slapping across the snare, are the stuff of audio dreams. This triggered
another remarkable moment of audio insight: as the track ends, Brubeck announces a short
intermission. The fans begin to leave their seats and the track starts to fade out -- but
now, for the first time, I clearly heard someone in the audience exclaim "Wow!,"
presumably in regard to the performance just ended. Its such gems that make this
hobby so rewarding; the fact that I heard this "Wow!" as clearly as if Id
been sitting there in Carnegie itself just blew me away.
Its not often that I hear audio cables that offer
actual improvements in the sound. But from the moment I first heard it, I knew that
Synergistic Researchs Tesla Tricon USB was the real deal, and an absolute must-have
for those whove moved to a computer-based digital audio source -- without it,
youre hearing only a small fraction of your systems performance capability.
The Tesla Tricon USB isnt just good or great; its transformative.
Theres no doubt that $550 is a fair bit of money, but with the significant
performance boost given by the Tesla Tricon USB, buyers may wonder why Synergistic
Research sells it for so little.
. . . Colin Smith
|Synergistic Research Tesla Tricon USB Cable
Price: $550 USD per 1m cable.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.
17401 Armstrong Ave., Suite 102
Irvine, CA 92614
Phone: (800) 578-6489
Fax: (949) 476-0800